Blog Menu

AM Demand Will Exceed Supply

July 3, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 09:43

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates. It was originally published July 3, 2014, and updated and republished July 9, 2014.

Over the past decade, several major trends have emerged in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. Two of them are 1) the rapid growth of metals, and 2) a marked increase in production applications. Yet, outside of dental copings and acetabular (hip cup) implants, these two key developments have not converged in a significant way. That changed in May 2013 when GE Aviation announced its plan to manufacture all fuel nozzles for its LEAP engine using metal AM. With 19 fuel nozzles per engine, production is scheduled to reach 40,000–45,000 units annually in six or seven years.

The announcement was one of the most significant milestones in the history of the AM industry. A major corporation publically declared its confidence in AM for a demanding production application in a hostile and critical operating environment. At the same time, this development created a new concern: Will supply keep up with demand? According to Greg Morris of GE Aviation, the fuel nozzle production would require about 60 systems working around the clock using today’s AM metal technology.

A July 1 story on the German news website Wirtschafts Woche reported that GE Aviation intends to order 100 metal systems from EOS. An official announcement is expected during the Farnborough International Airshow later this month. We have since learned that this story is inaccurate. According to GE Aviation, no order has been placed. A vendor has not been selected and the number of systems to be ordered has not been determined. While unit sales of metal AM systems increased 75.8% last year, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2014, production capacity at AM system manufacturers is still relatively low. An order of this magnitude would certainly jolt EOS’s production capability and tax its resources. It will also produce a ripple effect for other metal AM system manufacturers.

One can assume that the GE fuel nozzle is the first of many metal production parts launched, and more from the aerospace, medical, dental, jewelry, and (eventually) automotive sectors will follow. Can the AM industry meet this demand? We believe that the metal AM supply chain—consisting of system manufacturers, material suppliers, and certified service providers—will not be able to keep pace with demand.